The question of what it means to be human has preoccupied thinkers since antiquity. The classical humanism of the Italian Renaissance saw humanity as hierarchical, with elite European males at the apex while women, lower class or foreign men, and animals occupied varying lesser degrees of being. Using the theme of domestication to interrogate the intertwined notions of femininity, sexuality, and animality, Juliana Schiesari looks to early modern Italy to uncover the origins of the modern conception of the human. Beasts and Beauties examines the relationship between domesticity and power by focusing on the contemporaneous development of two phenomena - the invention of the 'pet' and the delineation of the home as a uniquely private enclosure, where the pater familias ruled over his own secluded world of domesticated wife, children, servants, and animals. Drawing upon canonical works and authors of the Italian Renaissance, Schiesari discusses how the figure of the animal resituates these works and provides a fresh perspective to how we as human beings perceive ourselves in relation to the world.
Juliana Schiesari is a professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis.